July 4th is peak summer vacation time at Walt Disney World, which is bad from a crowds perspective but good in terms of entertainment, fireworks, and special things during the Fourth of July holiday. We cover what to expect for Independence Day Weekend 2019 at Walt Disney World. (Last updated June 30, 2019.)
The first thing to expect on July 4th is added crowds at Disney as Floridians and Southerners head down to Walt Disney World for the holiday. Fortunately, July 4, 2019 is a Thursday, meaning you won’t have a ton of Southerners descending upon Florida for a long weekend trip. Unfortunately, it’s still plenty busy with tourists and locals.
Add to that the fact that Disney and America go together about like America and apple pie, plus great celebrations and fireworks shows, and it’s easy to see why a lot of people visit Walt Disney World for July 4th. This post will offer tips and tricks for surviving Walt Disney World around the Fourth of July, and help you make the most of the experience.
If you’re already in Walt Disney World and are looking for ways to avoid the heat, humidity, and crowds and for the best experience on and around July 4th, we’ve got you covered. If you’ve wanted to do the “Distinctly Patriotic” thing and go to Walt Disney World for the Fourth of July, but have always been afraid of the chaos and crowds, this post might just present an attack plan to convince you to go.
Since we are distinctly patriotic (or crazy…your pick!), we’ve visited Walt Disney World for the Fourth of July and weeks both before and after Independence Day itself several times. It’s hot, humid, and crowded. Not exactly ideal circumstances. However, the atmosphere and fireworks are some of the best in the United States, enough to almost make it all worthwhile.
With that said, here’s what we’ve learned about making the most of the Fourth of July at Walt Disney World!
When we were at Walt Disney World for the Fourth of July last year, I sweated through my shirt approximately 13 minutes after we got to the park each morning. Okay, maybe not that quickly, but the idea is that Walt Disney World is more or less a rain forest environment in the summer. It will be in the upper-80s with 80%+ humidity, and it will rain for at least 20 minutes. Every day. You need to pack accordingly.
We think packing light when going to the park is a good idea, as more weight equals more heat. Three items from our Unique Disney Packing List that we think will be helpful are Frogg Togg Chilly Pads for keeping cool, a collapsible water bottle for keeping hydrated, and ponchos for staying dry…and not getting fleeced on the Disney ones when it’s either buying one in a gift shop or getting soaked!
This stuff isn’t unique to visiting over the Fourth of July, but it’ll help keep you sane during one of those visits. Additionally, if you want to stay cool during your July visit to Walt Disney World, consult our Tips for Beating the Summer Heat at Walt Disney World post.
As far as the major holidays go during which we’ve visited, Fourth of July isn’t quite as bad as the others. To be sure, it’s still bad, just not as insanely bad as New Year’s Eve, for example. What arguably makes it worse than other holidays is the Florida humidity and summer tour groups. Crowds, plus humidity, plus tour groups can be a recipe for disaster, and can make your group more prone to meltdowns.
We say this not to scare you, but to give you a strong dose of reality before you expect to walk into the park skipping hand-in-hand down empty sidewalks with Sam the Eagle while lighting sparklers and being handed apple pies and Cracker Jacks by smiling Cast Members.
There will be none of that. You will encounter congestion, incredibly long lines (even for restrooms), and other guests in foul moods due to the “unexpected” crowds. In fact, the parks get so busy that sometimes they are closed to new guests at various points in the day via phased closings.
No matter what tricks we have to help you avoid crowds, it is impossible to avoid them completely unless you lock yourself in your hotel room. Beyond that, no tip, regardless of how good, is as good of a tip as “visit in September or late January instead.” If avoiding crowds is your paramount concern, you should be avoiding the weeks around the holidays, not reading these tips for visiting on July 4th.
With that said, you can definitely make lemonade out of lemons, seeing and doing a lot on the Fourth of July despite the crowds. Here’s how…
1. Skip Midday – During Fourth of July week, the Magic Kingdom is sometimes open from 8 am until 3 am. Other parks are open until 1 am. With park hours being this long, it’s unrealistic to be there from opening to close. Most guests will either start the day late and stay until close, or start the day early and fizzle out by late afternoon.
The time when these groups “overlap” is the middle of the day. Crowds are always lightest in the morning, getting progressively worse until about 1 pm, then tapering down the rest of the day, with crowds again being light the last couple of hours each park is open. The middle of the day is the hottest, busiest, and just generally the most miserable time to be in the parks.
So skip it. Start out your day right when the park opens, get a ton done before it gets crowded, go back to your hotel to take a nap or enjoy the pool during the busiest and hottest hours of the day, then return to the parks–refreshed and recharged–for the nighttime hours.
2. Do Indoor, Less Popular Attractions – Going to Walt Disney World during busy seasons doesn’t bother us because many of our favorite attractions aren’t all that popular, are located in air-conditioning. If you have awesome taste, you might find doing the following attractions is a great strategy for you. Asterisked attractions score extra points for being “distinctly patriotic” experiences that are Independence Day Must-Dos!
- *Carousel of Progress – Rotating theater showcasing the progress of the American family, including a Fourth of July scene and a generally patriotic tone; rarely has a line meaning you can ride repeatedly if you’d like.
- Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover – Leisurely ride through Tomorrowland on elevated track; especially great for a relaxing nighttime ride.
- Country Bear Jamboree – Almost makes the patriotic list (what’s more patriotic than musically-inclined bears?!); a fun, humorous show.
- *Hall of Presidents – Stage show featuring every US President; aside from their mere presence, this show is not political–it’s historical, educational, and moving.
- Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room – Quick, indoor show with singing tiki birds makes for a quick rest stop.
- *American Adventure – World Showcase pavilion with performers followed by Audio-Animatronics stage show about America. Must do on the Fourth of July!
- Turtle Talk with Crush – A cute show with Crush from Finding Nemo. Add the aquatic exhibits and this pavilion is a nice respite from the heat.
- Impressions de France – Distinctly unpatriotic, but this film about France is a good option for escaping the heat. This travelogue is a good option for a break while Drinking Around the World at Epcot! (Actually, Drinking Around the World is a pretty good Fourth of July activity, too…)
- Voyage of the Little Mermaid – Indoor black-light stage show retelling The Little Mermaid. Sometimes has a line, but that’s in the AC, too.
- *MuppetVision 3D – Muppet 3D film with Sam the Eagle, and a glorious Salute to All Nations, But Mostly America!
- *Walt Disney Presents – A walk-through exhibit tribute to Walt Disney, one of the most patriotic men to ever live.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- Finding Nemo: The Musical – The name sums this one up. Lots of seating for this indoor stage show.
- Festival of the Lion King – Another indoor stage show with a descriptive name.
In general, Animal Kingdom is not a great option for avoiding crowds and heat during a summer visit. That is, unless you want to spend ~3 hours in the air-conditioned queue for Avatar Flight of Passage. We don’t think that’s exactly the best way to spend your day, but it’s certainly one way to avoid the heat!
3. Don’t Eat at Lunchtime – People like to eat lunch at lunchtime. That’s a pretty obvious thing to say, right? Well, because of that, and due to limited restaurant capacity, the waits to order food are longest at noon. Eat when restaurants first open or later in the afternoon. The best time of day is going to be around 3 or 4 p.m.
4. Use FastPass+ During Prime Hours – Visiting Walt Disney World during the Fourth of July summer season requires an advanced degree in theme park touring, so if you’re asking, “what’s FastPass+” you may need to start at the beginning of the course.
Since lines are longest midday, it follows that you’ll get the most utility out of those FastPasses when the parks are busiest, which is closest to the middle of the day. Consider using your FastPass+ for parades and fireworks (especially for IllumiNations, where the FastPass+ viewing area is exceptional), but know that this will preclude you from getting “bonus FastPass+” during the day…which you probably wouldn’t be able to get in the first place, anyway.
July 4th Entertainment
Of the four Walt Disney World theme parks, only Magic Kingdom and Epcot have special fireworks shows for the Fourth of July. Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios run their normal nighttime spectaculars. The Magic Kingdom shows “Disney’s Celebrate America,” its Independence Day fireworks on both July 3 and July 4.
Epcot only does its Independence Day fireworks on July 4. Because of this, we highly recommend seeing Celebrate America on July 3. There is some “other” Fourth of July entertainment at the parks (we’ll discuss that below), but you should really make your plans around the fireworks, with the other stuff being a tiebreaker, of sorts.
We have seen all of the Fourth of July fireworks shows, and they are all awesome. Each uses enough pyro to declare war on a small nation (assuming you could somehow use pyro to declare war…nevermind that), and each show is so intense that some guests might consider wearing sunglasses and earplugs while watching.
Here’s a rundown of each fireworks show on July 4th at Walt Disney World:
- Celebrate America (Magic Kingdom) – The best of all three shows. It has the soundtrack that is both patriotic and quintessentially Disney, along with special fireworks bursts accompanying the soundtrack. These fireworks have an awesome 360-degree effect. On the downside, it draws the largest crowds.
- IllumiNations with Heartbeat of Freedom Tag (Epcot) – The most intense 5 minutes or so of fireworks you might ever see at Walt Disney World, and at the park with the most patriotic festivities. On the downside, it starts out as the regular IllumiNations show and is probably the least patriotic of the shows…unless you count lots of explosions as patriotic, which we do. 2019 is the final year for IllumiNations, meaning it’s your last chance to see Heartbeat of Freedom!
- Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular (Disney’s Hollywood Studios) – This is the normal fireworks show, with nothing added.
- Rivers of Light (Disney’s Animal Kingdom) – This is the normal nighttime spectacular; it’s not actually a fireworks show.
We’re already assuming you’re going to see Celebrate America on July 3 (if not, definitely see that show on the Fourth of July), so that means it comes down to Epcot or Magic Kingdom a second time for the Fourth. My take is that Epcot has a better patriotic atmosphere during the day, and the fireworks are much more intense and spectacular.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios used to have a Fourth of July fireworks show, but this year, it’s just the normal Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular, which you can see any day of the year. Likewise, Animal Kingdom is only showing Rivers of Light, which you can see any day.
Epcot’s World Showcase can hold a lot of people, but it still manages to fill up, and becomes difficult to navigate. It’s still a great experience, and well worth braving the crowds to see. Don’t just show up for the fireworks–Epcot has a whole day of patriotic entertainment options.
Arrive wherever you’re going to watch these fireworks shows at least two hours in advance. Possibly more. People start saving fireworks spots in late afternoon, several hours before the shows. This is especially true in the Magic Kingdom, which is more crowded than Epcot, which is more crowded than Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. We have a blog post detailing our favorite viewing spots for Magic Kingdom fireworks, and this holds true for the Celebrate America fireworks.
One thing worth noting in that list of viewing locations is the spots outside the park. These are busier than normal, but they’re still great alternatives. Again, Bay Lake Tower warrants mentioning here, as the Top of the World Lounge is a fantastic, relatively uncrowded spot for fireworks (if you are a Disney Vacation Club member who can access it). The Ticket & Transportation Center is also a great spot. Normally, the beach of the Polynesian Resort is good, but this year it’s a mess of construction.
Developing a plan for the fireworks before the Fourth of July is a good idea, as you cannot stroll up at the last minute and grab a spot. Everything from transportation to navigating the parks is more difficult during the busy summer season. Having things to do while you wait will make the experience much more bearable!
In terms of the “other stuff,” Magic Kingdom has special PhotoPass options on July 3 & 4, including a fun-looking light painting effect at night. Otherwise, Epcot is where the Fourth of July stuff happens, where there are extra performances of the American Adventure entertainment, plus Disney characters meeting in special patriotic attire.
Around the hotels, nothing of significance is officially scheduled. Magic Kingdom area resorts do not have any official events, but you can expect big crowds and informal ‘parties’ as these resorts crowd with hotel guests and locals eager to view the fireworks.
All in all, Walt Disney World is a great, patriotic place to spend the Fourth of July. Not everything will go according to plan, and it can be a frustrating experience if you let the crowds and heat get to you. Instead, go in with the right attitude and plan on doing things that are in the AC, and don’t have long lines. The fireworks and the other supplementary entertainment make a Fourth of July visit to Walt Disney World a lot of fun, no matter what!
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Have you ever visited Walt Disney World for the Fourth of July? Would you ever do it? Have any additional tips for making the most out of the experience, or regarding which fireworks shows to see? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts and questions in the comments!